The Presidential Election of 1852

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

Learn about the presidential election of 1852 and how it was affected by the issue of slavery. When you are finished, take the quiz and see what you've learned.


A Clear Victor: Blue for Pierce, Orange for Scott, and Brown represents the territories that did not participate
Election Results

When you think of the late nineteenth century in the U.S., you probably think of slavery. It was present, and it was the center of politics. But the rightness of slavery was never debated. If you were going to be a president of the United States, you didn't dare taking that stance; it was a good way to lose almost half of your voters.

The Presidential Election of 1852 was no different. The most important act during Millard Fillmore's presidency had been the Compromise of 1850, which was actually series of five compromises. They were the admission of California as a free state, that the Utah and New Mexico territories would be able to decide if they would be slave or free states, that Texas needed to give up its claims on northern territories, that there would be no slave trade in Washington D.C., and that there would be a stronger fugitive slave law. On paper, it looked like the admission of California as a free state was the only item where the northerners had won, and so most northerners blamed Fillmore for allowing slavery to spread.

In practice, though, allowing the southern states to decide whether they would allow slavery or not did not work against the north. By 1850, all the southern territories were in lands that didn't require slaves, and the people who had moved to them weren't interested in slavery.

Whigs and Democrats

The Compromise of 1850 mainly affected the party known as the Whigs. Northerners blamed Fillmore for it and refused to nominate him for a second term. Instead, they wanted Mexican-American War hero Winfield Scott. The southerners wanted to keep Fillmore and credited him with keeping the southern states in the union. Scott eventually won the nomination, but it left the party divided.

Election poster for Scott and Graham
Winfield Scott Poster

The Democratic Party started its caucuses with four candidates who were focused on everything from the rightness of the compromise of 1850 to railroad expansion. It was only late in the voting when the New Hampshire war hero Franklin Pierce was introduced into the balloting. Pierce eventually won the election, taking southerner William R. King as his vice president to attract the voters from northern and southern states.

Election poster for Pierce and King
Franklin Pierce Poster

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